Definition of compass in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈkʌmpəs/


Image of compass
1An instrument containing a magnetized pointer which shows the direction of magnetic north and bearings from it: walkers should be equipped with a map and compass a magnetic compass Crewe was ideally placed on the rail network, with connections running to all points of the compass
More example sentences
  • Point the binos in any direction and a digital compass takes a bearing.
  • Sailors have been comparing their compasses, which show magnetic north, to the sun and stars, which show true north, for many centuries and noting the results in logs stretching back to the year 1590.
  • This finding strengthened the idea that pigeons unable to see the sun rely on the earth's magnetic field as a compass.
2 (also compasses or a pair of compasses) An instrument for drawing circles and arcs and measuring distances between points, consisting of two arms linked by a movable joint, one arm ending in a point and the other usually carrying a pencil or pen: a regular heptagon cannot be constructed accurately with only ruler and compass
More example sentences
  • Discover that despite the aid of pairs of compasses, scissors and anything else you consider useful, the most you can get in before it breaks is about 1 cm.
  • In the first plate of Europe, Urizen is portrayed majestically as an aged, Newtonian figure leaning down from the sun with a great pair of compasses to create the world.
  • Postulate she puts those on with a pair of compasses.
3 [in singular] The range or scope of something: the event had political repercussions which are beyond the compass of this book goods and services which fall within the compass of the free market
More example sentences
  • Extending the photograph beyond the compass of the glance into a continuum, he presents more information than a single frame could be expected to contain.
  • She was high in her praise of the level of organisation of last year's training sessions and suggests that reaching the decider this year is well within the compass of the minors.
  • We even relocate daybreak and sunset, which, one might surmise, are logical ways to determine the beginning and end of a given day, within the compass of clock-time.
scope, range, extent, reach, span, breadth, width, orbit, ambit, stretch, limits, confines, parameters, extremities, bounds, boundary;
area, field, sphere, zone, domain
3.1The enclosing limits of an area: this region had within its compass many types of agriculture
More example sentences
  • Within the relatively narrow compass of Northumberland and Durham - as it must seem to us today - it might even be said that he was a great one.
3.2The range of notes that can be produced by a voice or a musical instrument: the cellos were playing in a rather sombre part of their compass
More example sentences
  • As a musical instrument the singing voice has wide tonal compass and uniquely variable pitch, intensity, and stress.
  • The modern concert harp has 46 or 47 strings and a compass of six and a half octaves.


[with object] archaic
1Go round (something) in a circular course: the ship wherein Magellan compassed the world
More example sentences
  • A Brisbane City Council radiovan has just compassed the streets announcing that the water will soon be cut off, period of outage unknown.
  • One of the Troopers made a patrol, compassing the property about twice an hour, while the other two were to stay in the house.
  • Raven continued turning the crank and the machine clicked and whirred as all the planets compassed about the sun on their courses.
1.1Surround or hem in on all sides: we were compassed round by a thick fog
2Contrive to accomplish (something): he compassed his end only by the exercise of violence
More example sentences
  • Edward III defined treason as imagining and compassing the death of the king; such imagining had to be accompanied by ‘overt acts’ to qualify as treasonous.


Middle English: from Old French compas (noun), compasser (verb), based on Latin com- 'together' + passus 'a step or pace'. Several senses ( 'measure', 'artifice', 'circumscribed area', and 'pair of compasses') which appeared in Middle English are also found in Old French, but their development and origin are uncertain. The transference of sense to the magnetic compass is held to have occurred in the related Italian word compasso, from the circular shape of the compass box.

Words that rhyme with compass

encompass, rumpus

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: com|pass

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